The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is holding its elective congress in Tonota this weekend where the main attractions are the positions of Chairman and Secretary General respectively. The current Chairman of the party, His Honour the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is challenged by Hon Nonofo Molefhi while the current Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane is challenged by former Ambassador to Japan Jacob Nkate and the former Secretary General Mpho Balopi. At the heart of these elections is primarily the body and soul of the party – that is, the direction the party should take to address the political and socio-economic challenges the country is facing. What do the lobby lists say? I will admit and concede that I am not aware of the position of the Vice President’s lobby list on say fundamentally reforming the party to deal with addressing challenges facing the country. Reforms have so far failed. But what has come out from some of those who support him is that the Vice President must win the chairmanship to avoid creating two centres of power. Two centres of power will exist when the vision and mission of the party is not interpreted the same by the leaders. The fact that there are two lobby lists contesting could be interpreted as a sign of two centres of power existing because both camps have their own interpretations of the vision and mission of the party.
Hon Molefhi’s lobby list is of the view that there should be division of labour where the Chairman will be responsible for the effective and overall management of the party while the President is charged with the effective and overall management of government. I find Hon Molefhi’s argument appealing and compelling. The BDP’s support has significantly plummeted in recent times as evidenced by the popular vote of 47% in 2014 general elections and the poor performance in the last eleven by-elections. Somebody must head the BDP to resuscitate and re-engineer its appeal to all and sundry. The threat posed by the UDC is real and if the BDP is intending to be more of the same, it must prepare for the inevitable. I am not suggesting that the Vice President is unable to put the BDP where it belongs but that there is so much on his desk to do for Batswana. The President, as will be shown hereunder, has massive national challenges which require his undivided attention. The BDP government has behaved in the last 10 years or so as a party that has reached a cul-de-sac in terms of demonstrating that it can offer Batswana hope for the future. What we see are serious issues of political and administrative lapses which emerged at the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises last year where Ministers demonstrated that they are law unto themselves by wilfully ignoring every rule in the book. The Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General have revealed just how Permanent Secretaries as accounting officers are failing to manage financial resources entrusted to them. These revelations have been with us for as long as we can remember. This, therefore, tells us that nobody is in charge, politically and administratively. Batswana desperately need a lobby list that stands to change the status quo. Somebody in the BDP should explain why there is so much laxity with no demonstrable consequent management at the political and administrative levels. Your guess is as good as mine why this is not the case. Let us briefly look at the political and socio-economic challenges the country faces.
Botswana is facing serious political and socio-economic challenges of epic proportions which require urgent and decisive leadership attention. The BDP as a party in power since independence started off reasonably well but has of late been very passive in mitigating sustainable solutions to national challenges. As a result of this passive attitude by the party leadership, the challenges have in large measure multiplied and inevitably so, cascaded to the citizenry who feel the bitterest pinch. The BDP government has taken political decisions which have not only become unpopular to the general citizenry but also to its members. The controversial amendment of the Electoral Act which has brought the much talked about Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which the party, against all logic and expected reasonableness has disowned, is a hot potato which has been thrown at congress to decide. It is totally bizarre and tantamount to the BDP shooting itself in the foot that it could disown a piece of legislation its own President has signed into law. We can be taken for granted but not on this one. Like I have said it in the past and will repeat as I hereby do, the snubbing of international meetings by the party President in the likes of the African Union and the UN General Assembly has negatively affected Botswana in the eyes of the international community. Most of BDP MPs who are backbenchers have been rendered rubberstamps to executive decisions given the strength and influence cabinet ministers have over them. Most if not all Bills brought by these ministers are generally speaking, not subjected to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny like the amended Electoral Act in order to avoid the hue and cry and possible litigation.
On the socio-economic front, the obvious challenge which the BDP is dismally failing to address is the issue of unemployment. The unemployment rate is fast approaching the 30% mark due to quick fix and unsustainable solutions. Parastatals are year in and year out retrenching workers with the result that the unemployment rate rises. In most cases, the underlying reasons for these retrenchments are largely due to dismal failure of good and decisive management. Outside factors which could necessitate such retrenchments are very minimal. The arbitrary shutting down of BCL by government against expert advice from captains of the industry is perhaps, the last straw. Government is as a consequent of this arbitrary decision, battling again with quick fixes to redeem itself at Selebi-Phikwe. The consequences of shutting down BCL have negatively and directly affected workers and indirectly but with equal measure, affected their dependents. Youth unemployment exacerbated by arguably unsustainable programmes; corruption which could be argued as the cause of failure of high value projects like the Palapye glass factory and others, are some of the pressing socio-economic challenges. Issues raised above have had far-reaching socio-economic consequences for the country. Will the chairmanship of the Vice President change the status quo? I am afraid not. The Vice President has been at the helm of the BDP for the last two years as chairman and three years as Number 2. All the national problems listed above though not of his own making, have received little to no effort from him for solutions. For example, he is reportedly charged with the task of creating jobs yet very little to nothing has come out as sustainable jobs. In fact, more than five thousand jobs were destroyed under his watch at BCL. All that could go wrong on the executive front has done so again under his watch. It is not difficult to expect all bad laws signed under his watch as leader of government business in Parliament to be repealed – the Trade Disputes Act, Electoral Amendment and others. So all in all, nothing if anything suggests that the BDP will fundamentally change under the Vice President’s chairmanship. It will be more of the same.
While I endorse Hon Molefhi’s argument of division of labour, it won’t make that much difference even if his lobby list wins because of the infighting in the party. There are members who strongly believe that the BDP requires a serious paradigm shift to regain its former glory while some believe otherwise. The current situation where the executive does not implement programmes from the party does not make the situation any better. The EVM saga is one such example. Hon Molefhi’s lobby list may just pull a surprise win from sympathetic votes but the win will somewhat be hollow nevertheless. What am I saying with all the above? I am saying that the BDP is facing the greatest prospect of ceding power to the opposition if it doesn’t fundamentally reverse all that it has done in the last decade or so at this congress. If this congress becomes more of the same in terms of adopting resolutions which subsequently gather dust at Tsholetsa House, the popular vote will further decline and the political and socio-economic challenges referred to above will continue and worsen. But I am afraid nothing suggests that the current political temperature in the BDP will cool down anytime soon because the stakes are so high. If may be, and just may be, the lobby list aspiring to change the status quo wins could the misfortunes of the BDP be changed. Judge for Yourself!